Interview: Max Cavalera Talks Soulfly’s ‘Archangel’

Brazillian guitarist, songwriter and singer, Max Cavalera, is one of the busiest men in metal. The Sepultura co-founder now plays with Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy and Killer Be Killed. Today, we caught up with him for a chat about the new album, Archangel, his musical roots, and song writing. Enjoy!

SR: Hi Max, thank you for talking with us today. Well, your today, our tonight.

MC: No problem.

SR: Congratulations on a fantastic career of 20+ years, starting and collaborating with so many awesome bands, such as Sepultura, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer Be Killed and, of course, Soulfly, just to name a few.

MC: Thank you! I appreciate that.

SR: What influenced you to pick up a guitar and also find your powerful voice?

MC: Mostly growing up in Brazil. It was very different from what people saw from the outside. People only saw the beautiful postcards of Brazil, but in reality, we were really poor and it is a third-world country with a lot of poverty and crime. I think that led us to liking violent music and made us want to play aggressive, angry music as kids. It was more a kind of rebellion against our situation, you know?

SR: How old were you when you picked up the guitar or decided to start singing, whichever came first?

MC: About twelve or thirteen.

“…The first Soulfly Big Day Out tour was huge. That was when I realised Soulfly was accepted in the metal community…”

SR: Did you have anyone in your family or anyone who influenced you to go down that way?

MC: Well, not directly. My father played acoustic guitar and sang Italian songs when he was alive, but he passed away when I was nine. So I believe that, you know, the guitar playing does come from him because he was good at it. So was his Dad, my Grandfather used to play us the acoustic guitar. So I think the guitar playing part comes from them. But he never sat down with me and jammed with me and taught me how to play. That never happened. So I think it was passed more through the blood.

SR: Yes, it’s definitely in your bloodline. I understand that. Well, we know about your long collaboration with your brother, Igor. Has the spotlight or the pressures of the music life ever put a strain on how close you are?

MC: Yeah. You know, we started playing together when we were young. We kind of grew up learning the music as kids and developed in the bands. I mean, we only had a couple of very small bands before Sepultura. And when we started Sepultura, I created the name and designed the first logo, which is on display in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum in Cleveland. The original book that I wrote it in when I was twelve years old is on display in there. We grew up together and we pretty much agreed on most of the stuff and got along pretty good. There were a couple of fights, like all brothers fight.

“…I understand how thrilled they are (The Fans), you know, because I was excited when I met Ozzy. I kinda know how they feel when they’re excited to meet me, so it is cool…”

SR: That’s true.

MC: For ten years we didn’t speak, because of him continuing with Sepultura and me leaving Sepultura. But it’s part of life, you know? We’re back together now and everything’s good.

SR: Well I have three brothers and three sisters, so I know about these sorts of fights and the long-standing standoff of ‘I’m not talking to you.’ So, I do kind of understand. And it’s amazing that, wow, you started so young, and you guys probably pulled me into the metal life when I was 17 and now I’m 39. One of my first buys was a Sepultura miniskirt – not a t-shirt, a miniskirt – which I still own. (Laughs).

MC: Awesome. That’s great.

SR: It’s great to see you’ve come full circle. First you were a musician, and then a father, and now able to work with three of your sons who are extremely talented. How does that make you feel?

MC: Yeah, proud and excited. I mean, they’re getting good, you know. I was not nearly that good when I was that age. You gotta give them time, you know, to get better and better, but they’re already doing an excellent job – especially Zyon on the drums. He’s doing amazing. We’re on tour right now. Zyon and Igor are playing with me. Now Igor’s playing bass and he’s doing 110% every night. It makes me proud to be able to jam with my sons like that and to be able to put them in the band for a while and to get to jam with them. It’s really a dream come true, you know, for any metal Dad.

SR: Is that what you imagined when they were little?

MC: I hoped, you know. I thought that one day it might happen, but I wasn’t 100% sure it would happen. You always just wish, you know?

SR: Yeah. Yeah, I do.

MC: But, whatever they want to do with their lives I’ll support them. I just want them to be happy with whatever they do. But I am glad they chose music, because even though it’s a hard life, you get to see a lot of cool things in the world and the rewards are actually quite good if you do it the right way. You get rewards in your life that are quite exciting.

“It’s an extreme metal album, but with a positive message…”

SR: Fantastic. In your unbelievable career, you’ve worked with an insane amount of talented and diverse musicians, like Tom Araya, Burton C Bell, Jello Biafra, Mitch Harris, and Mike Patton, just to name a few. Who were you most excited to work with and why?

MC: Ah, one of my favourite collaborations was with Sean Lennon on Primitive, because he was so different. We wrote about our dads and that was a special subject for both of us. We lost our dads early and we really connected on that. We worked on Son Song for more than a week, altogether, and that’s more time than I normally work on any other guest song. So that was quite special. But I like all the collaborations, you know. Even the ones when you’re not there physically with the person. They do also come out pretty good. And I love the idea that Soulfly has kept that tradition alive on every record – the collaboration. The new one has Matt from King Parrot and Todd from Nails. So it’s a tradition I want to keep alive for a long time.

SR: Even the ones I know offhand are such a long list. The Sean Lennon collaboration was a powerful song. Who are some of your influences and what sort of music do you listen to now?

MC: Mostly heavier stuff. I like a lot of very heavy stuff like Nails and Hour of Penance and King Parrot… Psycroptic. I don’t know – too many bands to mention. But yeah, I listen to mostly new bands. I listen to more new bands than old bands.

SR: What’s the highlight of your career so far, do you think?

MC: I don’t have one, per se. There have been a couple of things. The first Soulfly Big Day Out tour was huge. That was when I realised Soulfly was accepted in the metal community. And it was a really big thing for me, because when I created Soulfly I didn’t know if it was going to work and it was really kind of up in the air – is this band gonna be accepted or not by the metal fans. And we did Big Day Out and it was early in the day and the place was packed. And the shows are some of the most insane shows I’ve ever done. So that’s definitely one of the highlights. Touring with the Ramones in Brazil with Sepultura was huge.

[embedvideo id=”W51kAov1Xg8″ website=”youtube”]

SR: Yeah, I agree that would be!

MC: Yeah, that was a great tour. Yeah, a lot of cool tours – the Ministry tour, the Pantera tour. The Slayer tour that Soulfly did was awesome. So we have been part of some really amazing tours.

SR: Oh, to have your life. To travel with those bands would be amazing – or, even to travel with you would be amazing as well. So they’re all very lucky bands. You bring something new to every album. What do you think it was this time? What influenced Archangel?

MC: It’s an extreme metal album, but with a positive message, which I think is cool to have today in the metal world, some kind of positive message. It’s full of really cool biblical imagery and lyric ideas. That’s quite different, too, for us. We’ve never done anything quite like that. So, I think that in every aspect, Archangel is quite different from everything we’ve done and I’m very proud of the record. I think it’s gonna be a very, very cool record for us to tour with.

Soulfly-ArchangelSR: I was lucky enough to get a little bit of a sneak listen to it and I found it amazing, like your whole career that I’ve found amazing. It was very harmonic at the same time as having an industrial feel. All the sounds that you put into one song just blended so beautifully. I’ve never heard anything like it.

MC: It took a lot of work, you know. It was an album that we worked on for a long time. I worked for a couple of months last year writing and then jamming with Zyon in Phoenix. And then we entered the studio with Matt Hyde and made the songs all into real songs. And then we had production on top of it. Matt Hyde is an amazing producer and he created all of these great vibes, kinda biblical vibes in the songs, and choirs and angelic voices and things like that. So yeah, you know, when you work for that long on something and it comes out as exciting as this project does, everybody feels excited about it. And everybody is really thrilled to be having this album coming out and be ready to work and hopefully tour for it for a very long time.

SR: Oh, that’s fantastic. Can you give us a rundown of your song writing process? I also loved the comment from your wife saying that you shit riffs – you actually shit riffs. (Laughs)

MC: Yeah, that’s because there have been some times when she’s caught me off guard and told me I had two weeks to make some records. And even though I did not like that very much because it’s a lot of pressure, the albums did come out really good. I like writing riffs all the time. I just sit down with the guitar and write riffs. It’s a little bit of a hobby of mine, you know, even when I don’t have to make anything for an album; but, most of the time when I’m sitting with a guitar with my four accent drum machines, I’m writing for something. So it’s very driven and very based on the album that I’m working on. And it’s all pretty much the same. It’s very old equipment. I’ve had this equipment for about 15 years. It’s really just for the lines, you know, it’s just for the riffs. We don’t use anything that I record. None of that’s going to go on the record because we redo everything anyway in the studio, so it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t need to be a high-quality recording, just as long as it’s a good guideline for the riffs for us to hear in the studio.

SR: Do you have any crazy fan stories that you could share with us?

MC: Yeah, we have a bunch of different ones. We had a stalker for a while living in our backyard for about two years. He’d come and jump the fence and sleep in our backyard, and use our Jacuzzi. We’d find his underwear near the Jacuzzi the next day. It was creepy like that, you know?

SR: Yeah.

MC: Yeah, you get things like that when you become a musician eventually. That kind of follows you. But, it’s not so bad. Most of the fans are pretty cool and I do a lot of meet and greets where I meet the fans after the show. Most of them are just excited to meet me and take a picture and they’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time. And I understand how thrilled they are, you know, because I was excited when I met Ozzy. I kinda know how they feel when they’re excited to meet me, so it is cool. It is cool to meet the fans and talk to them. Sometimes, we even welcome their feedback, like, ‘you should play this song’ and ‘you should play that song.’ We kinda listen to them and add the songs to the setlist, you know?

SR: Okay, well this will be the last question. Do you have any messages to your dedicated Aussie fans who are waiting on the Archangel release, or any hints of another tour down under?

MC: No, not officially, but I hope we can come down to Australia next year with Archangel. It’s going to be a massive world tour. We’re starting in the U.S and then we’re going to Europe in January, and hopefully we can come to Australia. I love Australia and I’m ready to bring Archangel down for the Australian fans. I want to thank all of them for the great support. All the way back from the Big Day Out to now, it’s been amazing feedback I’ve got from the Australian fans and I really appreciate that.

SR: Oh, well it’s been amazing talking to you. We’re such fans down here. I know, for myself – as I’ve said, I’ve been a big fan for 20-plus years. So, thanks for talking with us tonight and we hope to see you soon.

MC: Okay. Thanks.

SR: Thanks, Max. Bye.

[embedvideo id=”2Zj4bhARfWw” website=”youtube”]

Archangel – Out Aug. 14th
Get the album here